Sue Grey, Nelson lawyer and co-leader of The Outdoors Party (an anti-vax, anti-5g, anti-1080 political party), had her day in court last week, taking the government to court over their COVID vaccine rollout. Although I was not able to spare the time to spend the day in court, I did manage to briefly visit the outside of the High Court in the morning, and when I got there Billy TK, who had decided to join the circus, was arguing outside with security guards. It turns out he had been kicked out of the court foyer for filming in a prohibited area, and of course his being removed was just proof that the system is corrupt. Go Billy!
Inside the courtroom, Sue Grey argued that the government’s attempt to use the Medicines Act’s provisional consent in Section 23 to roll out the COVID vaccine to the entire population was illegal. A few weeks ago I wondered if maybe the government would transition from this limited use clause to a different part of the Medicines Act, but it turns out that instead the government’s plan was to use this clause for a general rollout, because it’s been done before.
It transpired that there are many precedents for this use, including currently available products for contraception, the flu and an electrolyte.
The judgement was released yesterday (opens new window), and it turns out that the government tried to argue that only rolling out the vaccine to over 16s fits the definition of "limited". The court warned the government that this looks to be potentially illegal, and advised them to go away and look into it further. However, the court strongly disagreed with Sue’s idea that the vaccine rollout should be halted, considering it to be a dangerous idea that could, without merit, damage the public’s confidence in the COVID vaccine.
Unfortunately Sue is claiming this as a "win", and is already using it to push her unfounded ideas about the vaccine not being safe (including saying "the cure is worse than the disease"), recommending vitamin D, zinc, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as effective cures and telling people to do their own research:
This is annoying, as it gives people the idea that their interpretation of complicated technical data is as valid as experts’ informed judgement. I’m sure Sue doesn’t like it when people with no legal experience or knowledge talk like their opinions are as valid as hers, and in the same way a lay person’s understanding of vaccine studies is not on par with expert opinion. Rather than telling people to "do their own research", it would be great to hear Sue telling people to read a variety of expert opinions, and bear in mind how well respected and generally accepted those opinions are.
The good news from this is that the government is planning to change the law. The first change has happened already, and is a limited amendment to the Medicines Act, allowing for large scale rollouts of important medicines at short notice. Andrew little said yesterday:
"The Medicines Amendment Bill is expected to be passed under urgency tomorrow in order to protect New Zealanders' early access to medicines when needed"
I’ve checked in this evening, and the Bill has passed all three readings (opens new window) under Urgency already, and is just awaiting Royal Assent - and from what I can tell, the entire process took about an hour. I’ve watched some of the debate as part of the Committee stage, and it was interesting that although a few MPs took the opportunity to rap the government over the knuckles for their slip-up, there was unanimous agreement that the amendment to the Medicines Act was needed to allow for emergency rollout of medicines such as vaccines. Section 23 now has the bold part removed:
...the Minister may... give his provisional consent to the sale or supply or use of a new medicine where he is of the opinion that it is desirable that the medicine be sold, supplied, or used on a restricted basis for the treatment of a limited number of patients.
But it’s the second change that has been touted, the replacement of the Medicines Act, that I’m more interested in. If the government ends up replacing the act with something fit for purpose, such as the currently languishing Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill, it could end up being a useful tool for curtailing the more dangerous parts of alternative medicine currently being sold in New Zealand.